Friday, 24 May 2013

Woolwich, Islamism and the West

Just two little vignettes on the tragedy in Woolwich, where an off-duty soldier was murdered with a machete in broad daylight:
First, our old friend Ken Livingstone was up to his old tricks. I don’t for a moment suggest that he failed to condemn the attacks – he did – but he, apparently uniquely among the political class, made that old trick of moral relativism for the left, linking unspeakable terrorist acts to Britain’s foreign policy:
“In 2002, before the invasion of Iraq, the security services warned the Prime minister, Tony Blair, that this would make Britain a target for terrorist attacks. We are still experiencing the dreadful truth of this warning.”
Or, roughly translated, “I told you so, I told you so, ner ner ner ner ner”.

Apart from the crassness of trying to make that political point in a moment of tragedy, and whether you agree or disagree with the specific case of Iraq being a correct decision, it is obvious to all but the entirely bereft of intelligence where the logic of that ends up: you must never upset any religious group or foreign power, no matter what, because you might one day be attacked.

Further, it is precisely that logic that Al Qaeda and their miserable allies would like the whole world to take on, because it discourages Western countries from ever challenging them.

It is also an indication of how far Livingstone has fallen – when he was in power during 7/7, he made a statement which was, in fact, quite statesmanlike, and made no mention of the war that we were at that time in the middle of. As George Eaton rightly bangs him to rights in the New Statesman:
“aside from noting the crude simplicity of blaming the Iraq war for yesterday's attack, one might note that Britain hasn't had troops in the country since 2011. “
Second, well done to the BBC, for going that extra mile for quality journalism and asking “extremist preacher” Anjem Choudary for comment, then being surprised and outraged when he failed to condemn the attacks. For those who follow this man's guttural career, it was not so much of a surprise. As Stephen Pollard tweeted last night:
This is the Choudary, who knew one of the alleged perpetrators of the killing and who, let us not forget, who tried – and failed – to organise a fatwa against the extraordinarily brave schoolgirl Malala, shot in the head by the Taliban. And who was a vocal supporter of Osama Bin Laden and led prayers after his death. Frankly, if Choudary is still walking the streets, we might reasonably conjecture that it is only because MI5 have classified him a fool rather than an explicit danger to society.
And, even in that, I am not quite sure they are right. If this sounds alarmist to you, I advise you to watch this video (especially from two minutes in), filmed at one of his “classes”, where he advises young Muslims to hate Obama, Cameron and democracy:

Shocking though the events in Woolwich were, perhaps more shocking is how Britain had, despite a number of thwarted bomb plots over the last few years since 7/7, lulled itself into an entirely false sense of security; anything, rather than accept the reality, which is this: that the theme of Islamism - as opposed to Islam - and the West could well dominate the geopolitics of the coming decades, long after Iraq and Afghanistan are forgotten.
As someone with a bit of experience about these things said last year:
“The West is asleep on the issue of Islamist extremism.”
It is, and Britain is no exception. Not just in its failure to deport the likes of Abu Quatada, but in its seeming blindness to the radicalisation that is going in within its own communities.

And nowhere is this blindness more prevalent than on the British left.

STOP PRESS 25 May 2013: Found this morning this fantastic clip of Anjem Choudary, owned on Newsnight by the excellent Maajid Nawaz of Quilliam, the anti-extremism think-tank.


  1. Saying that we shouldn't interfere in another countries matters as it,might result in violence on our own shours ,was what the appeasers said

  2. Indeed. "Far-away countries of which we know little..."

  3. I have just read a conversation you had on twitter with a Labour councillor Nina Killen who appeared to be making excuses for what happened in Woolwich and would like to congratulate you for helping expose her for what she really is-an appeaser and apologist for terrorism-and would like to add that perhaps someone should have a word with Bill Esterton about the crypto extremist views of one of Sefton's councillor's because Labour cannot afford to be seen to make excuses for elected officials with views like that, like it did back in the 1980's!

  4. You can't criticise Ken for making a political point about a tragedy whilst simultaneously doing the same thing yourself, simply because his kind of politicking is the loony-lefty kind you don't like whereas yours is a-ok Blairite militarism. Anyway, I really think you're being far too uncharitable in assessing the motives of those who even dare to mention western foreign policy in the same breath as the Woolwich murder. Ken Livingstone's point is not at all controversial amongst those who seriously study terrorism as a sociological and psychological phenomenon - it's practically a truism that the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, separate from questions of their justifiability, made the threat of terrorism in Britain worse. Moreover, the kinds of domestic government policies (stop and search, Prevent, etc.) have bred a huge amount of resentment amongst British Muslims and regardless of whether or not you think these sorts of things are justified or necessary - they are crucial to understanding the problem you claim to be so motivated about fighting. British troops left Iraq in 2011? Oh, well, I guess that's ok then!

    There's no "I told you so" about this - nobody relishes seeing young servicemen murdered on the streets of Britain and it's intellectually dishonest of you to attribute such desires to people with whom you disagree. Some of us on "the left" (if you must call us that) are also extremely concerned about the kind of nihilism, racism, barbarism and politically active misogyny which is emerging in the form of a highly active political Islam. The only difference is, though, that some of us would like to answer the question on a little bit of a deeper level than simply condemning the evil-doers. An analogy might help - support for fascist movements tend to increase during times of great economic crisis, yet it doesn't somehow legitimise the EDL or adopt the logic of the BNP to look at the reasons why they attract new members in times of crisis, and what can be done about it. You could, I guess, just write a blog post saying what nasty people they all are, or you could increase spying in economically deprived areas, or get policemen to harass people wearing football shirts, but it won't really get you anywhere in understanding or addressing the problem.

    Unfortunately, this kind of moralising post has become increasingly common since 2003 and I suppose it's popular because it makes people feel good and brings them together to say that the problem is "them" and has nothing to do with "us". To be sure, Anjem Choudary is a nut and the world is always going to be full of crazy people spouting inane crap. Rather than wasting your time shooting fish in a barrell and condemning obvious loons, it might be better to ask why the guy and others like him are being given an audience amongst young Muslims. Is it that they are all, to a person, monsters, or could there also be something at play which requires us to look in the mirror and ask ourselves as a society some questions about how we treat religious minorities in a time of crisis?

    P.S. I would highly recommend the works of Robert Pape, Marc Sageman, Scott Atran and Bruce Hoffman. They are far more reliable sources than Tony Blair on the origins of terrorism as a social and political phenomenon.

    1. Hm, I don't see where I've made a political point. I am criticising the logic of someone who is. The two are not the same.

      "Practically a truism"...on what evidence, exactly?

      How do you know what would or wouldn't have happened if Britain and America had not got involved in Iraq and Afghanistan?

      Weak, weak argument.

  5. To the last poster: the problem we have to address, is why the views of the extremists, are not as unacceptable amongst British Muslim society, as the views of the EDL are, amongst British non-Muslim society - and bare in mind, that the (openly professed) views of the EDL are less extreme than the (openly professed) views of extreme Islamic groups.

    The answer to this is not the Prevent Strategy or the anti-terror policework, but the thinking and attitudes fostered, that see the Prevent initiative (actually discontinued) and the police in a negative light.

    To return to the Muslim/mainstream dichotomy once again, why is it that we have multiple websites dedicated to fighting Islamophobia, and an MSM keen to prevent negative perceptions of Muslims, and yet we have very very few websites set up to oppose extreme Islamism, or, better still, any negative perceptions of the unbelievers by Muslims. The antifascist industry turns its powerful guns even on UKIP, whilst giving Hizb ut Tahrir, Jaamat Islam and other characters - all more right wing than UKIP - a free pass, in effect. Now, that makes sense, since criticism of extreme Islam offends the many Muslims who to some slight degree sympathise with their outlook, and creates anti-Muslim bigotry amongst the general population. But, since they don't act, who does? The Prevent strategy funded organisations like Quilliam, which did a bit of this, but it's an indication of the problem that many Muslims were accustomed to a demonised view of Quilliam, as an attack on Islam or, at the very least, as sell outs to the government, to the non-Muslim, to what functioned as the 'Other'.

    If it is problematic and dangerous to have ill educated individuals essentialise all wars by Muslim states as aggressive Jihads, then surely it MUST be equally problematic to have eccentrically educated individuals lecture Muslim students on the real history - in which the wars of (even admittedly extreme) Christian states are essentialised as anti-Muslim Crusades, whilst historical Muslims are described as "we/us" and said to be too principled to carry out similar conquests. This is problematic. Muslims should protest against this kind of nationalism, but, in general, they don't even notice it. The speaker I'm thinking of is Mo Ansar, who yesterday (to his credit) hugged Tommy Robinson, and who is regularly invited onto discussion programme's as the friendly moderate Muslim. And yet, if to be Right Wing is in one definition the support of one's own identity group (usually but not necessarily a country) then Mo Ansar is very right wing, more so than the controversial Neil Ferguson, for instance.

    As to foreign policy, none of what you said can explain away the endorsement of the killer's narrative, which would not receive such attention without the beheading. In other words, the people you make excuses for are effectively rewarding the decapitators. They are also reinforcing that one sided narrative, which makes it slightly more likely that such acts will reoccur. It would be more helpful to have people accurately describing, sympathetically, the motives and characters of Western states, their leaders functionaries and soldiers, their self restraint and wish to do the right thing, and therefore expose brainwashed individuals to a more complex, truthful, narrative.

    Arguing that the killers are not terrorists, but Obama is, and that the media is racist, and that it is prejudiced against the killers because they are Muslim, is not a counter narrative: it IS the jihadist narrative.

    1. This is a fairly patronising response - that Muslims are insufficiently critical of people within their own ranks. September 11th was roundly condemned by Muslims and even Islamists the world over, and you've clearly not been paying attention over the past week or so if you think there's been a lack of condemnation of this kind of violence from British Muslims. That said, I will agree that these views are more prevalent amongst Islamic communities than the EDL's views are in English society. The question is how we address the problem, which is real.

      You're right that it isn't the job of UAF or whatever to protest against extreme Islamist groups, since that kind of stuff is more likely to embolden the kind of bigotry that UAF fights, even though I'm sure that nobody within UAF wants to live under Sharia law. Essentialism is bad on both sides, but as I said like with the EDL addressing the problem requires more than condemnation - it requires addressing grievances from whence the extremism is borne, not the actual extremist demands of radical preachers.

      I detect a slight Orwellian tone in your discussion of the "endorsement of the killer's narrative". The effect is to shut down any criticism of what our own states do because it's similar to the kind of thing that extremists say. I don't think such totalising grand-standing is a very helpful attitude to address the problem of extremism, especially because it puts us in an absurd position of trying to combat extremism but being willfully blind to its motivations.

      What's important to distinguish is what you simplistically call the "jihadist narrative" from what it is about jihadist political engagement that makes it repugnant in the first place. Are jihadists immoral because they criticise western foreign policy? I'd say that's pretty irrelevant - they are immoral because they willfully kill civilians and advocate an extremely grim, dystopian society which none of us would want to live in. It therefore doesn't matter if one happens to detect a hint of truth in what they say about western foreign policy because it's irrelevant to what makes them immoral. It doesn't make criticism of capitalism null and void because there are violent Maoists in the world.

    2. Thanks for your thoughtful response - you make some very interesting points. In particular, I would probably agree that the EDL, deeply unpleasant though they are, are not openly arguing for people to be hanged. That said, both groups are pretty awful.

      I particularly liked this:

      "It would be more helpful to have people accurately describing, sympathetically, the motives and characters of Western states, their leaders functionaries and soldiers, their self restraint and wish to do the right thing, and therefore expose brainwashed individuals to a more complex, truthful, narrative."


    3. Alex and Rob; I'm afraid I've only just now read your responses. Rob; thankyou very much, and Alex, you make very interesting points. Alex, I particularly enjoyed your last paragraph, about jihadism being awful in its own terms and that therefore it's not necessary to argue with pro-jihadi persons about their accusations on the subject of the mistreatment of Muslims by their various targets. This is quite provoking and interesting.

      However, while jihadi's might subscribe to a utopian/dystopian project, and while they might have few limitations in their conduct, this is not how they see themselves (as unreasonable nutcases), they have more immediate emotional impulses, like the deaths of children in Yemen. Adebolajo even apologised for the necessity of cutting that soldier's head off.

      I'm no expert, but it seems to be that there are two seperate idea's which motivate 'Islamic' violence. The first is a religious (or political-religious) ideology, conveniently termed 'Islamism', which provides a legal-religious duty to fight and restrictions on how to do so - this, although paralleled elsewhere, is specifically Muslim. The second idea/concept which motivates 'Muslim violence', though, is not unique to Muslims but is a state of mind common to all people's everywhere - for want of a better word, it is chauvinism

      While the first, more abstract, motivator (Islamism) needs the second motivator (chauvinism) to get people to act, the second can inspire action independantly of the first. Adebolajo may have wanted to usher in a caliphate, but he didn't need to want that. What was necessary for his deed was a simplistic binary understanding of world events (West=bad, jihadi's=good/misunderstood) which was strengthened by a strong identity (So "they" are killing "our" children),and, based upon the world as he saw it, IT WAS HIS MORAL DUTY to kill Rigby - from a utilitarian point of view, the murder would save lives. It is not enough to say that "jihadi"/"Islamist" ideology killed Lee Rigby, because although his killers belonged in that category their motivations were more urgent and indeed morally (based on the information they'd been given about the world) they could justify their actions independantly of Islamic or Islamist ideology.

  6. @Alex (sorry, I didn't label, the other response was for CBinTH):

    I'm afraid I think you are deliberately twisting CBinTH's words here, the point was not "I'm appalled that don't Muslims condemn more" but "why is it that there is more sympathy than we might expect for this narrative than we might expect, and how do we address that?"

    1. We might have been able to prevent the murders (and by extension much of the violence internationally) by attacking the narratives promoted by, or congenial to the cause of, jihadi groups. This need not be Orwellian; but violence feeds on simplistic explanations, and the truth defies simplicity, so that revealing more of the truth necessarily defuses violent inclinations.

      Admittedly my motivations are not entirely "pure", not wholly justified by practicality, here. I find Adebolajo's point of view upsetting and offensive, especially when it is reflected in mainstream newspapers, such as the Guardian, shortly after the attacks. But, leaving that aside, I do believe that to declare thathe killers were motivated "not by Islam, but by our foreign policy", is somewhat disingenuous, because there is an intermediary between that "foreign policy" and their "action", and this intermediary is their understanding of our foreign policy (which is where "Islamists" come in, influencing that understanding), which is error prone and simplistic.


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